There's never an urn at stake here, or the odds of a billion people ganging up against you in cricket's naked dance of the riches. But the adrenaline is forever in attendance whenever these two sides take each other on, manically surging up to woo the cricket romantic in you. South Africa and Australia aren't cricket's best couple ever but, quite astonishingly, they make the best kids. "Australia is our favourite team to play against," Faf du Plessis admitted recently.
And so here they return, with a short three-match ODI series that reeks of inadequacy, to replenish their cricketing rivalry that had gone missing after the Newlands ball-tampering fiasco. The first ODI at Perth on Sunday (November 4) will be the first time Australia play at home since then, and it adds an interesting dynamic to a series that's being played in the backdrop of the Longstaff cultural review: which Australia will turn up against South Africa after all?
It's an interesting identity crisis to have. While decades of faulty conditioning, and more importantly in a ratifying winning culture, is bound to leave some residue -- "that culture from years back is going to be hard to crack," Dale Steyn has said -- the world now also stands "woke", allowing Australia little room to goof up and redefine the line, again. But a less pompous Australia can be an unrealised broadcaster's nightmare; you can't invest USD. 1.2 billion and afford to see failed attempts at marking out aggression from infidelity by someone who's grown up believing that the two are one and the same.
And what will South Africa, head over heels in love with Australia, and publicly so, do? Nobody wants to fight a rival on morphine. Not Sherlock Holmes. Not Professor Moriarty. And definitely not South Africa.
Starting the first ODI, the series is unfailingly going to be a journey about self-discovery. Australia will need to respond to a raucous home crowd they have let down, and who will still be willing to go to war to defend them. With 14 losses in their last 16 ODIs, the hosts don't know how to win without wanting to win at all costs yet, and having a new captain in Aaron Finch, who will be taking over from Tim Paine, can be the impetus they need to take themselves off the beaten path - culturally or otherwise.
South Africa, without Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, lost their practice match in an ominous start to the tour, suggesting that this isn't their best batting unit taking on Australia, who themselves are volatile in the absence of David Warner and Steven Smith. Thankfully, there's Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungisani Ngidi racing against counterparts Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood in what will be yet another instalment in cricket's generational debate about the best bowling attack. And what better time than seven months before the World Cup to go one-nil up.
The series, which can be differently billed as Australia's chance at redeeming the 5-0 whitewash in 2016, isn't going to set a house on fire, but cricket will take comfort in the firebox on offer in exchange, maybe.
What: Australia vs South Africa, 1st ODI at 11:20 AM local
Where: Perth Stadium
What to expect: A sunny day with a high of 21 degree Celsius forecast. The venue has hosted just the one ODI, against England in January, where Andrew Tye and Tom Curran picked five-wicket hauls. With two showstopping fast bowling sides, expect some good pace and bounce in the wicket.
Australia: Shaun Marsh, who looked a bit knackered against Pakistan but scored two hundreds in England earlier in the year, will bat one-down and will have to be among the runs, as Shane Warne argued recently. Aaron Finch and D'Arcy Short are set to be the openers, with Alex Carey the designated the wicketkeeper after Australia let go of Paine to focus on Test cricket.
There are only two places available for Glenn Maxwell, Chris Lynn and Travis Head in the middle-order and it'll be interesting to see Australia's picks. Legspinner Adam Zampa might be preferred over Ashton Agar's left-arm spin, whereas the pace trio of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins will be supported by the seam-bowling all-round capabilities of Marcus Stoinis.
Probable XI: Aaron Finch (c), D'Arcy Short, Shaun Marsh, Chris Lynn, Travis Head/Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood
South Africa: No Hashim Amla means that Aiden Markram, who impressed with 47 in the warm-up game, will open alongside Quinton de Kock. David Miller, also among the runs in the warm-up game, will hold the middle-order with Faf du Plessis, who had limited game-time in the Zimbabwe series because of his limited shoulder problem.
Chris Morris and Farhaan Behardien return to the ODI squad, while Reeza Hendricks should get an extended run to nail down the No. 3 spot. Given the pace bowlers at their disposal and on a Perth wicket, expect only one legspinner in Imran Tahir to play.
Probable XI: Aiden Markram, Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Faf du Plessis (c), David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungisani Ngidi, Imran Tahir
Did you know:
- Australia have won only six out of the 25 ODIs they played since January 2017. Their win percentage of 24.00 is only ahead of Sri Lanka's 23.91 in this period.
- Since January 2017, Australia and South Africa average the highest for the opening wicket in ODIs [SA: 55.53 and AUS: 55.32]
- Imran Tahir is one wicket away from 150 ODI wickets. If he gets to the milestone in this first ODI against Australia, he will be the fourth-fastest overall and joint-fastest for South Africa to get there.
What they said:
"If we can follow our process and do our basics well enough, winning will start taking care of itself. If you start looking at the end result purely, that's when you can make some errors in judgement and fall down that way" - Aaron Finch isn't intimated by Australia's poor showing in ODIs of late.
"The results have not been as good as they would have liked, but from our point of view it's really important you look at Australia as a team they when there's a clash between Australia and South Africa it's always a tough one" - Faf du Plessis, despite Australia's form, isn't taking a win for granted.